The Visible Hand

Hand

Much of my pragmatic (as opposed to moral) argument for deep focus on community engagement is of the “invisible hand” variety. (Thank you Adam Smith.) Economic, cultural, and social forces will inevitably, but without direct action, change the landscape to such an extent that business as usual in the arts will eventually become unsustainable. The area where such pressures move from the invisible/indirect to the visible/direct is in public … [Read more...]

Birds Gotta Fly

AirbusCockpit

One of the inevitable results of traveling around the country is getting used to airline employees, especially flight attendants, talking to me–often reciting governmentally- or corporately-mandated scripts about safety or the rich benefits of airline credit cards. The presentations range from  stultifying to (occasionally) hilarious. It's fun to hear creative staff riff on the means of fastening seat belts or the use of oxygen masks. What I've … [Read more...]

Call for Mini Stories

Gard Foundation logo

In April I posted the Robert E. Gard Foundation's call for stories about the arts and community engagement. Many have been received. We are working on editing them and others for inclusion on our website. However, this work is important and examples are one of the best ways of explaining the concepts. So, in the interest of expanding the pool of examples, we are seeking responses to a new call for "mini stories." These are even shorter examples, … [Read more...]

Rationales

Why?

As I've mentioned before, I'm in the process of developing training options for arts organizations seeking a unified approach to community engagement–systemic, mainstreamed, and involving every facet of the work. Part of that, a relatively simple one to be sure, has been drafting descriptions of it. Several early comments suggested the need for including the rationale for community engagement. A first pass yielded the … [Read more...]

Improving Lives “vs.” Arts Mission ??!!

Seattle

As part of last June's conference of the League of American Orchestras in Seattle, I got to sit in on a pre-conference session of League members' Education and Community Engagement staff. It was great to be around a group dedicated to the work I believe is so important to the future of the arts. While there was much of value for me in that session, one participant question has haunted me for the weeks since. In a Q & A period, one woman asked … [Read more...]

Making Meaningful Connections

Helicon-IrvineConnectionsReport

The Helicon Collaborative and the Irvine Foundation have partnered on a "hit it out of the park" report addressing substantive engagement. Making Meaningful Connections presents research into the most effective practices in efforts to engage with diverse communities. (I felt this way before I saw that Building Communities, Not Audiences was listed in the bibliography.) In the introduction they make the case that engaging with new communities is … [Read more...]

Community Engagement ≠ Charity

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A couple of weeks ago my blogging buddy Trevor O'Donnell posted one of his parting essays, "Community Engagement is a Lousy Way to Sell Tickets." [Disclosure: we had been corresponding on the subject in the days ahead of that post.] In it he highlights the fact that community engagement does not generate much in the way of immediate ticket sales and to expect it to do so demonstrates a lack of understanding of the nature of the work. He also … [Read more...]

Civil Rights Museum

CivilRightsMuseumImages

After attending the Americans for the Arts Convention in Nashville last month my wife and I went on to Memphis to explore another city that we had not visited. As part of that trip we went to the National Civil Rights Museum. (On a personal note, I had not registered the museum's subtitle "At the Lorraine Motel" so when I arrived I had the breath knocked out of me seeing "the balcony.") Coming so soon after the conference session I discussed in … [Read more...]

The Self-Centered Pursuit of Diversity

Nashville

In my last post I reflected on the 2014 Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville. I concluded by mentioning an important session on diversity and promised a follow-up. There is much discussion (lip service and otherwise) of and occasional work toward diversity and inclusion in the arts industry. One difficulty is that much of the support infrastructure in the arts is connected via metaphorical superglue to the white monied establishment. … [Read more...]

AftA Thoughts (2014)

Nashville

Americans for the Arts held its annual conference in Nashville last month. As always, it was a chance to catch up with long-time colleagues, make new friends, and delve into the issues facing what I call the "arts establishment." I had the pleasure of helping facilitate a gathering of researchers in the field in a discussion of latest trends, needs, and issues. The bottom line was that as young (relatively speaking) as the nonprofit arts industry … [Read more...]